|ESPN.com: Cross Checks||[Print without images]|
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In the summer of 2009, Czech star winger Martin Havlat could see what everyone else saw while with the Chicago Blackhawks: a team seriously on the rise and ready to challenge for the Stanley Cup.
But when talks failed to yield a new contract between Havlat and the Hawks, former GM Dale Tallon stunned the player and the rest of the hockey world by turning around and inking Marian Hossa instead.
See ya later, Martin ... don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Then, his agent, Allan Walsh, got him a lucrative deal in Minnesota, but you can imagine Havlat's tortured soul a few months later when his former team in Chicago delivered on that Cup. That's why, when the Wild came calling this offseason, asking him to waive his no-trade clause for a move to a perennial contender in San Jose, it was a no-brainer.
"The Sharks have been one of the best teams in the league the last two years," Havlat told ESPN.com on Wednesday at the club's practice facility. "They've gone to the conference finals the last two years; it's not easy to do that. They're hungry to win here. There's a lot of great players, and I'm excited to be part of it."
Almost anything would be more exciting than what he went through in Minnesota. He just never quite fit in there. He wasn't on the same page as then-Wild coach Todd Richards. It just wasn't working.
Swapping spots with Dany Heatley in the trade, Havlat appreciates the chance at another shot with a Cup contender. This time, Havlat wants to be around for the ride.
"I play hockey to play in the playoffs," Havlat said. "The last two years were disappointing because we didn't make the playoffs. I was done in April, and that's when the most fun starts for some of the fortunate teams. At least I want to have a chance to battle for the Cup, and I hope to get that here."
Havlat and blueliner Brent Burns headlined another busy offseason for Sharks GM Doug Wilson, who hasn't been all that content with back-to-back conference finals appearances. Wilson had targeted Burns a while back before finally being able to sign him and fill what he believed was a long-standing need: another top-four blueliner and talented puck-mover who will help ease the minutes burden on Dan Boyle.
Havlat became part of the equation once Wilson had to pay up with Devin Setoguchi to get Burns. The Sharks believed they needed to replace Setoguchi's speed in their top six. Enter Havlat.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan plans to use that speed on the second line alongside Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe. That's a heck of a second line, at least on paper.
"That's the plan, but Plan A doesn't always come to fruition," McLellan told us Wednesday. "But we'd like him to move there. We like the years Clowe and Logan had, and those two feed off each other. There's a good combination. To add Havlat's speed and puck skills would be a nice addition on that line."
Havlat's ice time and role with the Wild were at times contentious issues, but the second-line assignment in San Jose with Couture and Clowe looks appealing to Havlat.
"I've been practicing with them the last few days," Havlat said. "Those two guys are great players. The whole lineup is full of skilled players. Whoever I'm going to play with, hopefully I'll fit in. It's up to the coach."
First, the Sharks have to get Havlat healthy. He's still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and while he's been practicing in camp, he's been wearing the orange no-contact jersey.
"I'm getting better every day," Havlat said. "I'm just trying to get stronger. This is where it was supposed to look right now. I hope to be ready soon."
Ready for the season?
"We'll see; we'll take it step by step," Havlat said. "Working on it every day."
McLellan is hoping Havlat will be ready, but can't force the healing process.
"The fortunate thing is that he's been able to take part in practice to the extent where he understands what we're talking about and gets to know his teammates," the coach said. "Just the physical part isn't there yet."
Havlat was tremendous during his last season in Chicago; the bigger the game, the more clutch he was. That's what the Sharks are counting on. But his recovery is a reminder of the list of injuries Havlat has had to battle in his career.
"We just got to keep him healthy," Boyle told ESPN.com. "He's had a few rough years where he's been injured. If we can keep him healthy, he's one of those guys that can make things happen. He kind of got lost in Minnesota the last few years, but I remember when he was in Ottawa. He was one of the most dynamic players in the league, and we're looking forward to seeing that again."